Questions for Multnomah County Q & A?

Jonathan Amato

I’m doing an interview with Multnomah County later this week and would love to know what questions you all might have for them. I’ll then post the answers to your questions later next week. Just leave your questions in the comments below…

Multnomah County is one of the lead agencies in charge of approving, permitting and inspecting food carts in Portland and other jurisdictions inside Multnomah County. They are the “go to” place for permits, and the last stop on the approval process when a new cart is ready to open. They coordinate with the City of Portland and the Fire Bureau to assure carts are safe and meet all applicable laws and guidelines and work on policy and planning issues around the carts. Finally, Multnomah County are the ones that do ongoing health inspections for cleanliness and food safety. To say Multnomah County is huge part of the food cart scene in Portland is an understatement.  Portland’s food carts wouldn’t exist without them.

  • So what does Multnomah County think of all the new food carts popping up all over the city?
  • What kind of issues are emerging with all these new carts?
  • Are there more regulations and permitting on the way?
  • How does someone apply for a food cart permit?
  • What are some of the biggest issues our city and county faces with food carts?
  • Why does Multnomah County do what they do with food carts?
  • And what about all those to-go containers, trash and other waste issues, isn’t there something they County can do?

These are just a few of the questions we’ll be asking Multnomah County later this week. Got questions of your own? Please leave them in the comments below.

Thanks for participating!


  1. Great work – can’t wait to hear how this goes.

  2. “And what about all those to-go containers, trash and other waste issues, isn’t there something they County can do?”

    perhaps phrase a little more aggressively along the lines of “what can Mult.Co. do to address reducing the waste stream from the to-go containers &c?”

  3. Jessica E Schurtman says

    I want to know what it will take to allow/encourage food carts to be sustainable and decrease their negative impact on the environment with regard to takeout containers and plasticware. Portland is know for it’s commitment to the environment and sustainability, but with the increase and success of food carts our negative impact on the environment also increases.

    As I see it, at least 2 avenues need to be explored:
    -change the health codes, so that carts are able to use washable serveware and that customers can bring their own containers, much the way re-usable travel mugs are the norm

    -Although some carts use bio-degradable/compostable paper/plastic goods, these products only decompose in industrial compost operations, not landfill or home compost. How can a composting program be set up in food cart pods with more than 3-4 trucks?

  4. Leave the carts alone! They can only verbally praise them. ANY taxes, regulations, or even financial support or deterrents, will destroy this wonderful “culture”.

  5. Would be curious to know about any known plans for new pods in the future, what the most likely locations of such pods might be.

  6. Regarding to-go containers, here’s pretty awesome system. Of course, it would take a lot of cooperation between cart owners- maybe something individual pods could pursue together.

    eco-clamshells at Eckerd College:

    eco-takeouts from G.E.T. Enterprises, Inc.:

  7. A lot of carts (that I am aware) are very keen on the idea of bio-friendly containers and use them. Having mandatory re-usable dishware would be impractical. By virtue of a carts design and operation, they use a minimal amount of water – and for every gallon that gets used – a gallon now needs to be discharged and disposed of. You can bet that every cart owner in town is intimately familiar with every drop of water they consume. It’s a huge part of the operation – and for some, it can get costly.

    I love my home and am proud of the accomplishment that has had Portland and Oregon lead the way with concepts that help protect our environment. I was a kid when we adopted the very first bottle bill. The rest of the country soon followed. I cheered when we were able to enlighten others of the dangers of poly styrene containers and were able to effect a ban on their use here locally.

    …And I agree that there needs to be a solution to what some see as a waste issue. But it is important that the cart owners themselves are not made to carry the burden for a customers trash. That responsibility should weigh heavily towards the consumer. I mean, when I buy something from a drive through, or even a delivery pizza in a box – I take on the responsibility for my own trash. When I dispose of a coffee cup from Starbucks (Spella) into a city street trash bin on the sidewalk, who’s responsible for that?

  8. I support the question of how can Mult. Co. help the carts compost. The carts are somewhat business incubators, a place to start out on a low budget, and it is really important to have that in any economy, but especially in this one.

  9. Brooke Howes says

    I own a food cart in downtown Portland. We pay more money out every month for fresh water to be deliverd and waste water to be properly removed than we do on rent. We provide our own garbage cans for the consumers and honestly I pick up more coffee cups from stumptown and starbucks than our own containers. People all over Portland stop at fastfood joints every day and i don’t hear you guys complaining about McDonalds crap in every parking lot and gutter in town. Find someone else to focus your eco-bashing on. McDonalds has served Billions and billions, I’ve served a few hundred.

  10. Mr. Bojangles says

    Brooke, I guess it’s obvious that the water comes from somewhere but I never thought about the scale and complications. Who/where do you as a proprietor get the water from? Are there any related regulations? Further, with whom do you dump it? How does that work? Can people separate categories of dirty water for different disposal methods? For instance, can you dispose of graywater via watering a greenroof or planters attached to your cart? How much does all of this cost anyway?

  11. Is there any way we can bring our own containers? I use my own bamboo silverware but don’t eat at the food carts as much as I would if I could bring my own reusable container. I try to frequent the carts that use biodegradable containers more than the ones who don’t.

  12. Nik Edgerton says

    In regards to the many posts here about sustainability, resource information for vendors would be a great topic to see on this site. For example, my hat goes off to Violetta’s. All of their packaging is biodegradable and if I am not mistaken, it is compostable. This seems the soundest solution, since bringing one’s own container raises concerns of cross contamination and is therefore a health code violation. I can certainly see how the container waste of so many carts has got to be a major consideration for the county. Incentives for vendors using alternative and sustainable practices such as this would be an interesting idea. A large part of this issue is that it can be so much more expensive for the vendor.

  13. Shrinkwrap says

    Great topic for this blog for sure! I’d like to see Multnomah County take the lead in trying to encourage the State of Oregon to standardize food cart permitting and regulation. Sure, allow the counties to pick up their slice of the pie, and maybe there are some special considerations that need to be addressed in one county or another which are not needed in others.

    As far as the container/trash issue, what is the state of the art in eco friendly containers? Does the permitting authority know?

    Also, I agree with above posters who find that over regulating would be a fly in the ointment. The food cart culture is the buzz at the moment-let’s keep it there.

  14. I’m closing comments to this thread now. I gave a whole bunch of questions to Multnomah County and they will be answering them in a week or so. Thanks for all the great questions!